I don't want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane

TRACEY SPICER
Last updated 05:00 28/04/2014
FLYING WITH KIDS
PHOTOS.COM

STRANGER DANGER: I know it's sexist. But I don't want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.

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I know it's sexist. But I don't want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.

Sure, almost 90 per cent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone in, or known to, the family, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

However, stranger danger is a risk and women are perpetrators in only about 8 per cent of cases, says the ABS data.

In 2001, Northwest Airlines paid a US family half a million dollars after a 10-year-old girl was molested by a 28-year-old man on a flight from Kansas to Detroit.

So how do we protect our kids?

A spokeswoman for Qantas says the airline is seeing more and more unaccompanied minors travelling, especially during school holidays.

In 2012, flight crew forced a male nurse to swap seats with a female passenger, because he was sitting next to an unrelated girl travelling on her own.

"It seemed I had this sign I couldn't see above my head that said 'child molester'," he said later.

The airline defends its policy, which still states: "Unaccompanied minors are allocated seats next to adult female customers. Where possible, Qantas aims to seat children near crew areas or next to an empty seat.

This policy reflects parents' concerns and the need to maximise the child's safety and well-being."

In the words of former NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People Gillian Calvert: "In the absence of any other test, it's one way in which the airline can reduce the risk of children travelling alone."

Virgin also copped criticism when 33-year-old Johnny McGirr was told by a flight attendant: "You can't sit next to two unaccompanied minors."

Now, its policy reads: "On a space available basis, we will allocate a spare seat next to the child. In some instances, flight passenger loads may prevent this and a female or male passenger will be seated in the vacant seat."

My nine-year-old Taj and seven-year-old Grace flew as unaccompanied minors, for the first time, on Virgin last year. They were put in the last row with a bunch of other kids where doting staff plied them with treats.

It was a relief to see their smiling faces at the end but I was disappointed I had no choice about where they'd be sitting.

Fragmented families means there are more young people flying unaccompanied more frequently, some as young as five.

In fact, Virgin has expanded its unaccompanied minors program to include seating in business class, while passengers from the age of two earn points and status credits.

All kids under 10 can collect stamps on a new High Flyer passport, which a Virgin spokeswoman says will instill a sense of pride each time they fly.

But it remains a conundrum: How do we encourage a sense of adventure while ensuring their safety?

My advice is this: Plan well in advance, as airlines have only a limited number of unaccompanied minor seats on each flight.

If you're worried, request that your child is seated next to another child, or an adult female. Some airlines will quietly comply.

Talk to your child about stranger-danger: Not to scare, but to inform them.

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Sure, not all men are paedophiles but offenders are predominantly male.

I figure it's better to be safe than sorry.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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